What an Oscar-winning production: No sooner had the Olympic torch been doused at Sochi than Russian troops, in uniform and out, began landing in Crimea. The script was as familiar as "Casablanca" as key points are seized, highways blocked, airports occupied, parliament buildings taken over, and the flag of the once and future Occupying Power raised everywhere.
Not since the 1936 Olympics in Berlin has aggression been so glamorously presaged, the mailed fist wrapped in such a velveteen glove. Even the excuse for this barely concealed act of aggression is borrowed from the Nazi Anschluss with Austria: An oppressed people has appealed to the fatherland for protection. And it had responded by sending help to assure their rights. The statements out of the Kremlin these days sound like poor translations from the German. What next -- a plebiscite in Crimea rigged to ratify this takeover? That would be another page out of Herr Hitler's playbook in Austria.
The courses at this poisonous banquet have been served in the customary order: First the Olympian appetizers, then the barely concealed aggression. The whole show lacks only a filmmaker of genius like Leni Riefenstahl to record this "Triumph of the Will" for posterity, or a poet like Ezra Pound to sing a song of surrender.
The past isn't dead; it's not even past. It keeps being revived, like a show that may have flopped the first time out but is worth another try. Call it "Springtime for Hitler," and it's working well enough. War-weary Americans so long for peace that we've been willing to settle for appeasement by a different name, at least till now. The truth becomes harder and harder to ignore, but there will always be those who try.
The more things don't change, the less the "leaders" of the Western democracies seem to have learned as they fumble and fume at these late developments, nonplussed as their dream of a post-Cold War world dissolves before their unbelieving eyes. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Didn't they assure us it wouldn't be like this? They must have forgotten to tell the Russians.
The unforgiving past is back, and those who don't remember it are still condemned to repeat it, again and again, like a recurring nightmare from which we seem to have learned nothing. And so the John Kerrys of the world skitter to and fro, from Geneva to Kiev and back, offering futile words that cannot hope to match forceful deeds.